Clint Eastwood's Invictus: A Colossal Bore

As the Springboks advance through the tournament, there is never the slightest suspense about where the movie is going or about the point it is trying to make. The point is that through sport, everyone (or at least everyone in South Africa) can put differences aside and join together as one. The idea is laughable; South Africa, many years after the end of apartheid, remains a seething, dangerous place. The result of a rugby tournament meant nothing.

And from the point of view of the black South Africans in the movie, the team is probably racist (it has only one black player). Early in Invictus (the title comes from a classic English poem about never giving up) the national sports council, which is all or mostly black, has to be dissuaded by Mandela from disbanding the Springboks and throwing away its green and gold emblems as symbols of apartheid. Mandela tells them to forgive. Mighty nice of him, but you can’t make people love a sports team.

Mandela shows up at the World Cup final dressed in the team colors, and we’re meant to believe that the black citizens became overnight fans of a squad that they had mostly associated with the brutality of the police and the military. After the agony of apartheid, would they really be that eager to throw their allegiance to a white team playing a white sport? (The black members of the president’s security detail confess that they don’t understand the rules of rugby.)

Not content to make the absurd case that rugby healed a nation, the movie stretches to the point that Mandela seems to be the main reason the team wins. He calls in the rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, for a meeting that makes the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Pienaar exits the meeting with a stunned look on his face because Mandela has just hinted that his team should try to win the World Cup. As if that’ll make all the difference.

Bizarre as it is to watch such an experienced filmmaker waste gobs of screen time on a sport you probably don’t care about or understand, it’s even more bizarre for Eastwood to think he has something interesting to say. “Hurrah for togetherness, boo to racists” is about it.